One of our cousins had a fight once with a fertilizer spreader, with an inanimate machine. He was pouring fertilizer into cotton rows with this spreader, a brand new expensive labor saving device, and he could not get it to spread the proper amount. It dropped too much, it dropped too little. He worked for two hours on the adjustments; then in a sudden tempestuous frenzy of temper he picked up a rock and beat the thing to bits. Throwing the broken pieces over the pasture fence, he yelled: “You dirty low-down evil contraption, stay there!” and going to the barn, he got out the old cow horn and from then on spread fertilizer as his father and grandfather had spread it.
This same cousin also had a row with a pig. This pig refused to eat when he came down to feed it. It pawed the ground and ran to the other side of the sty. “All right, said our cousin, “you either get some manners and eat when I feed you or you’ll perish to death.”
He came to the sty the second day with a bucket full of buttermilk mash, and again the pig pawed and ran away. On the third day he said to the pig: “All right, damn you, you can just perish.” On the fourth day, however, the pig ate ravenously as soon as my cousin put the bucket down, and from then on my cousin and this pig understood each other.
We drove into town to swap butter and eggs for coffee and sugar and black pepper; we swapped smoked hams for tobacco and cloth. We wasted opportunity, we wasted chance, but we held on to an attitude of living that some people had lost who did not waste opportunity and chance. We weighed and balanced many intangible things. We made up our minds about how we wanted things and where we wanted them.
I remember once my Uncle Wade saying to us he had decided when he was twenty-one years of age that he didn’t choose to live more than two days’ drive from the Southern Railroad – he didn’t intend to live any farther south than Greenwood nor any farther north than Pickens.
And I remember a great-uncle who started off to Texas and then returned, saying he found out in Mississippi that old Mr. No Account was moving right along with him, and he decided if old No Account had to hang on to him, he had rather deal with the scoundrel in South Carolina than ‘way out in Texas. We talked about great rains and great winds and great droughts — about all kinds of wonders. Once I remember Mary telling us she had seen an infidel. He was a Georgian, a fine-looking man, and he did not believe in God. Mary said to us Georgia was a wild place —preachers drank whisky in Georgia.
We discussed ultimate destinies — the asylum, the poorhouse, the graveyard, the jail. We considered chance and the power of faith over chance, and how strange and hidden was chance. We were caught by it like fish in nets and like birds snared in traps. And the race in our valley no more went to the swift than it had in Ecclesiastes, nor did the battle go to the strong, nor did riches come to men of understanding. When our time would arrive, it would arrive.
—Red Hills and Cotton, an Upcountry Memory, by Ben Robertson, University of South Carolina Press, 1943